Colonial Cuisine

Our Latest Obsession: Portuguese Chicken at Wing Kee Restaurant

How Portuguese rule of Macau brought Houston creamy comfort food.

By Alice Levitt December 28, 2016

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Portuguese rice, $6.25

Image: Alice Levitt

I will never have to stop apologizing, but as a writer with a special interest in the fusion of cuisines, colonialism is responsible for most of my favorite foods. I've paid verbal reparations for everything from banh mi to Ethiopian spaghetti. Now it's time to do the same for Portuguese chicken. 

Portuguese rule lasted exceptionally long in Macau—from 1557 until 1999, when China took over rule of the region just west of Hong Kong, the longest stay in history for a European country in Asia. Compare it, for example to Hong Kong, which was under British control from 1945 until 1997. And while Hong Kong has gifted the world with its share of French toast, baked pasta dishes and Euro-style desserts, Portuguese-Macanese fusion food is far less known outside the autonomous territory's 12 square miles. But that doesn't mean you can't eat Portuguese chicken in Houston.

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Salted fish minced pork rice clay pot, $7.95.

Image: Alice Levitt

I tried it on Christmas Day at Wing Kee Restaurant on Wilcrest Drive in Alief. Some readers might recognize the restaurant's name from deep in the mists of time. The Hong Kong-style eatery's original iteration closed a decade ago, before reopening late last year. Though I greatly enjoyed the sizzling pot of rice topped with salted fish and minced pork that tasted like the center of a dumpling, the primary reason to visit Wing Kee is its menu of daily lunch specials, dishes served from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. for $5.50 or $6.25.

Portuguese chicken or "Portuguese rice," as Wing Kee calls it, is in the $6.25 category with other Western-inflected dishes such as baked pork chops or fried fish in cream sauce, baked spaghetti with meat sauce, and curried beef brisket with rice. My server warned me that it would take 10 to 15 minutes for the dish to bake. So worth it.

The creamy sauce reveals influences beyond Portugal and Macao: it's thickened with coconut milk and flavored with curry, a reminder of the Portuguese State of India, which lasted until 1961, 14 years after Britain finally granted India independence. At Wing Kee, onions and potatoes join the marinated, then braised chicken in its baking dish. Some versions also incorporate Portuguese chouriço, though not the comparatively simple one here. 

The mantle of rice crisps at the bottom of the tureen like a paella's socarrat, perhaps the world's most delicious onomatopoeia. Higher up, the rich curry-scented sauce coats the grains and the soft chunks of chicken, in turn blanketed in a thin film of the curry that takes on an almost cheese-like texture. The comforting, soul-satisfying dish will have you saying secretly grateful apologies for colonialism, too.

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